CHCs Strained By Recession, Face Bigger Caseloads Under Reform

… From Kaiser Health News

While the health care reform debate rages on Capitol Hill, sitting just a mile away is the Walker-Jones Health Center in Northeast Washington, one of about 1,200 federally-qualified community health centers across the country that provide free and reduced-cost care to millions of Americans.

CHCs, who have seen their caseloads increase significantly with the growing number of uninsured Americans and the economic tumult of the recent recession, appear to be in line for a major rise in federal support and likely a corresponding crush in patients seeking treatment if a health care overhaul is passed.

The health reform bill approved by the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee and a similar measure put together in the House by Democrats would sharply boost funding for the centers.  In addition, the legislative proposals would expand coverage through Medicaid, the state-federal plan for the poor, and would provide subsidies for millions of Americans to buy coverage on new insurance exchanges.

Sara Rosenbaum, chairwoman of the department of health policy at George Washington University in Washington, says it is crucial to increase funding for the centers because they fill “an urgent need that is going to continue well into health reform.”

The reason: Experience suggests that if more people get insurance coverage, more will seek care. When Massachusetts in 2007 became the first state to require that residents be insured, patients—many of whom did not have established relationships with private practitioners—inundated health centers. Soon the centers were struggling to keep up with demand…

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